Book of Order 6.0108b. Those who are called to office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and
According to the minutes of the General Assembly (2006):
The Assembly rejected the minority report (by a vote of 287/234/0), then defeated a motion to refer recommendations 5 & 6 (by a vote of 281/234) and then voted to approve the following by a vote of (298/221/1):
5. The Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church recommends that the 217th General Assembly (2006) approve the following authoritative interpretation of section G-6.0108 of the Book of Order:
1 In the examination of elders and deacons, church sessions are governed by the same constitutional provisions as is the presbytery in its examination of ministers and candidates. While the language in this paper is directed to the presbytery, the advice is commended to sessions for their use as well.
a. The Book of Confessions and the Form of Government of the Book of Order set forth the scriptural and constitutional standards for ordination and installation.
b. These standards are determined by the whole church, after the careful study of Scripture and theology, solely by the constitutional process of approval by the General Assembly with the approval of the presbyteries. These standards may be interpreted by the General Assembly and its Permanent Judicial Commission.
c. Ordaining and installing bodies, acting as corporate expressions of the church, have the responsibility to determine their membership by applying these standards to those elected to office. These determinations include:
(1) Whether a candidate being examined for ordination and/or installation as elder, deacon, or minister of Word and Sacrament has departed from scriptural and constitutional standards for fitness for office,
(2) Whether any departure constitutes a failure to adhere to the essentials of Reformed faith and polity under G-6.0108 of the Book of Order, thus barring the candidate from ordination and/or installation.
d. Whether the examination and ordination and installation decision comply with the constitution of the PCUSA, and whether the ordaining/installing body has conducted its examination reasonably, responsibly, prayerfully, and deliberately in deciding to ordain a
candidate for church office is subject to review by higher governing bodies.
e. All parties should endeavor to outdo one another in honoring one another’s decisions, according the presumption of wisdom to ordaining/installing bodies in examining candidates and to the General Assembly, with presbyteries’ approval, in setting standards.
That is the dry wording of the General Assemblies adoption of the Authoritative Interpretation of the Book of Order.
Without using the word "scruple", the authors of the interpretation (Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church) referenced the tradition practice of declaring scruples - disagreements with tenets of faith. The local presbytery, as the ordaining body, was to determine whether the scruple dealt with an "essential tenet" of faith. Basically, it gave something akin to "local option" to the presbytery.
The ruling, however, states that, while it deals with scruples with regard to belief, it does not deal with behavior. The court decided, then, that the presbyteries could not exempt behavior that was against the constitution - namely the chastity in singleness wording.
Many of us where concerned all along that this was not the way to deal with the issue. It will take a constitutional amendment to overcome the judicial decision, I think.